Read CHAPTER IV - IN THE GRIP OF THE LAW of Maw's Vacation The Story of a Human Being in the Yellowstone , free online book, by Emerson Hough, on

Speaking of room with bath, Maw solved the ablutionary problem for herself the other day at Old Faithful Ranger Station.  The young men who make up the ranger force there have built a simple shanty over the river’s brim, which they use as their own bathhouse.  As there is no sentinel stationed there Maw thought it was public like everything else.  She told me about it later.

“I went in,” said she, “and seen what it was.  There was a long tub and a tin pail.  There was a trapdoor in the floor that was right over the river.  I reached down and drew up a pail of water, and it was right cold.  Then I seen a turn faucet, end of a pipe that stuck out over the tub.  It brought in some right hot water that come up within six feet of the door.  It didn’t take me long to figure that this was the hot-water faucet.  So there was hot and cold water both right on the spot, and I reckon there ain’t no such natural washtub as that in all Ioway.  I got me a wash that will last me a long while.  There wasn’t no towels, and so I took my skirt.  Now, Cynthy ­”

But Cynthy was writing notes in her diary.  All college girls write notes in diaries, and sometimes they take to free verse.  Of course writing in a diary is only a form of egotism, precisely like writing on a geyser formation.  They both ought to be illegal, and one is.  Maw knows all about that.  Sometimes, even now, she will tell me how she came to be fined by the United States commissioner at Mammoth Hot Springs.

You see, the geysers rattled Maw, there being so many and she loving them all so much.  One day when they were camped near the Upper Basin, Maw was looking down in the cone of Old Faithful, just after that Paderewski of the park had ceased playing.  She told me she wanted to see where all the suds came from.  But all at once she saw beneath her feet a white, shiny expanse of something that looked like chalk.  At a sudden impulse she drew a hatpin from her hair and knelt down on the geyser cone ­not reflecting how long and slow had been its growth.

For the first time a feeling of identity came to Maw.  She never had been anybody all her life, even to herself, before this moment on her vacation.  But now she had seen the mountains and the sky, and had oriented herself as one of the owners of this park.  So Maw, dear, old, happy, innocent Maw, knelt down with her hatpin and wrote:  Margaret D. Hanaford, Glasgow, Iowa.

She was looking at her handiwork and allowing she could have done it better, when she felt a touch on her shoulder, and looked up into the stern young face, the narrow blond mustache, of the ranger from Indianapolis.  The ranger was in the Engineers of the A. E. F. When Maw saw him she was frightened, she didn’t know why.

“Madam,” said the ranger, “are you Margaret D. Hanaford?”

“That’s me,” answered Maw; “I don’t deny it.”

“Did you write that on the formation?”

Maw could not tell a lie any more than George Washington when caught, so she confessed on the spot.

“Then you are under arrest!  Don’t you know it’s against the regulations to deface any natural object in the park?  I’ll have to telephone in the number of your car.  You must see the commissioner before you leave the park.”

“Me arrested?” exclaimed Maw in sudden consternation.  “What’ll that man do to me?”

“He’ll fine you ten dollars and costs.  If you had written it a little bit larger it would have been twenty-five dollars and costs.  Now get down and rub it out before it sets, and do it quick, before the geyser plays again.”

And so Maw got down on her knees and rubbed out her first feeling of identity.  And the commissioner fined her ten dollars and costs in due time ­for Maw was honest as the day and didn’t try to evade the punishment that she thought was hers.

“I ought to have knew better,” she said “me, a woman of my years.  I don’t begretch the money, and I think the young man was right, and so was the judge, and I’ll never do it again.  The commissioner said that I looked like a woman of sense.  I always did have sense before.  I think it must be these mountains, or the moon, or something.  I never felt that way before.”

It was this young man who walked down to Maw’s camp to take her number.  It was there that he met Cynthy, and I am inclined to think that she took his number at the time.  Later on I often saw them walking together, past the great log hotel with its jazz architecture, and beyond the fringe of pine that separates the camp trippers from the O’Cleaves, who live in the hotels.  The young ranger was contrite about arresting Maw, but that latter was the first to exonerate him.

“You only done right,” said she.  “I done what I knew was wrong.  Now, Hattie, and you, Roweny, don’t you let this spoil your trip none at all.  It’s once your Maw has allowed herself the privilege of being an old fool, the first time in her life.  I dunno but it was worth ten dollars, at that.”

And so I suppose we should let Cynthy and the young ranger go out into the moonshine to learn how the algae grow, of how many different colors.  Consider the algae of the geysers, how they grow.  Solomon in all his glory had nothing on the algae; and the Queen of Sheba nothing on Cynthy.

Sometimes, even yet, Maw and I talk about the time she was fined ten dollars for writing her name.  “It might have been worse,” said she to me.  “When we was coming through some place a ways back we heard about a man there that was sentenced to be hung after he had been tried several times.  His friends done what they could with the governor, but it didn’t come to nothing.  So after a while his lawyer come in the jail, and he says:  ’Bill, I can’t do nothing more for you.  On next Monday morning at six o’clock you’ve got to be hung by the neck until you’re dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.’  ‘Well, all I can say,’ says Bill, ’that’s a fine way to begin the week, ain’t it now?’”

The time she wrote her name upon the geyser will always remain the great event in Maw’s life.  When she makes down her bedquilt bed in the pine woods, from which she can hear the music of the hotel orchestra when the nocturnal dance has begun, and can see the searchlight playing on the towering pillar of Old Faithful, once more in its twenty-four daily essays from the bowels of the mysterious earth shooting up into the mysterious blackness of the night sky, Maw on her hands and knees says to herself:  “I’m glad my name ain’t on that thing.  It was too little to go with that, even if for a minute I felt like somebody.”

Speaking of the midnight and the music, sometimes I go over to the hotel to tread a measure with Stella O’Cleave, able for a moment to forget Stella’s father in the opulent beauty of Stella herself.  Her mother is what is called a fine figure of a woman, and so will Stella be some day.  Sometimes, when we have left the dance floor to sit along the rail where the yellow cars will line up next morning to sweep Stella away within a day after she and her putties have come into my young life, I may say that I find Stella O’Cleave not difficult to look upon.  I always feel a sense of Oriental luxury, as though I had bought a new rug, when Stella turns on me the slumberous midnight of her eyes.  I am enamored of the piled black shadows of Stella’s hair, even as displayed in the somewhat extreme cootie garages which, in the vernacular of the A. E. F., indicate the presence of her ears.  I admire the long sure lines which her evidently expensive New York tailor has given to hers; they are among the best I have seen in the park.  I could wish that the heels on Stella’s French shoes were less than five inches high.  I could wish that she did not wrap her putties, one from the inside out, and the other from the outside in.  But these are details.  The splendor of her eyes, the ripe redness of her lips, the softness of her voice, combined, have disposed me to forgive her all.

“There are times,” sighed Stella that evening, beneath the moon, as we sat against the log rail and listened to the jazz, “out here in these mountains, when I feel as though I were a wild creature, like these others.”

“My dear,” said I, “I can believe you.  Your putties do look wild.”

“Listen,” said she to me.  “You do not get me.”

The sob of the saxophone came through the window near by, the froufrou of the dancers made a soft susurration faintly audible.  I looked into Stella’s dark eyes, at her clouded brow.

“Come again, loved one,” said I to her.

“What I mean to say,” she resumed, “is that there are times when I feel as though I did not care what I did or what became of me out here.”

My hand fell upon her slender fingers as they lay twitching in the twilight.

“Stella,” I exclaimed, “lit-tel one, if that is the way you really feel ­or the way really you feel ­or really the way you feel ­why don’t you go down to Jackson’s Hole and try a congressional lunch?”